"It's self-evident that children have to deal with weighty themes very, very often," says Thompson.  "And while there is that sort of mantra that says they're adaptable … they're also very good at hiding what they feel.  I don't want to make a film that says to children that the world is perfect, and you're not going to encounter any difficulties. … In a sense, I'm trying for these films to hand over the power and the ideas and the initiative to the children."

In that spirit, Nanny McPhee never solves the children's problems, but only nudges them in the right direction so that they may work them out on their own as they take ownership of their choices and begin to see that their actions do indeed have consequences.

As in the first film, when the children meet Nanny McPhee, her initial appearance is quite startling.  A wart here, a wart there.  Freakishly long earlobes.  A single eyebrow.  A bumpy and bulbous nose.  And a protruding "tomb stone" tooth that sits atop her lower lip.

While her image—and the way that it changes from hideous to beautiful, as each lesson is learned by the children—is never explained in the film, Thompson likens the transformation to a Norwegian proverb:  "That which is loved is always beautiful."

"The interesting thing to do is to watch [Nanny McPhee Returns] with a bunch of kids and to ask them what they think," she suggests.  "A lot of kids say that it is because they love her more.  I think that that is one of the most important things about the film.  She's beautiful from the beginning, but you can't see it."

Special Co-stars and Effects

While Nanny McPhee's physical transformation is achieved primarily through standard hair, makeup and costuming wizardry, CGI was utilized to "increase the visual magic" of the movements of many of her animal co-stars.  Director Susanna White, making her feature film debut, brought her experience using CGI (television's Generation Kill) to enhance scenes that include a fantastical menagerie:  a burping jackdaw named Mr. Edelweiss, piglets who excel in synchronized swimming, a snoring baby elephant that sweetly stays on its side of the bed, and much more.

A cast of animals made a big impression on young filmgoers the first time around and add a touch of whimsy and comic relief to the Nanny McPhee Returns storyline as well.  But Thompson also hopes that older moviegoers will also have some fun takeaway, and some meatier food for thought as well.

"I've made something for groups of all ages to enjoy together that's got lots in it that they can talk about afterward, ‘cause that's what I used to do when I was a kid.  Seeing a film or watching a western or something on television, knowing that my parents were enjoying it as well, gave me so much pleasure.  And then having a talk about it afterward over maybe a hamburger or something like that—it was one of the great joys of my life, and that's what I've tried to make for people."

Let's Go to the Movies!

Indeed, Nanny McPhee Returns can be a family experience and viewed as perhaps a lesson in itself for parents who are struggling in their own households, as they try to spend quality time with their children and have discussions that will lead to lessons being imparted, and learned.

"We're so busy," admits Thompson, herself a parent of a ten-year-old daughter.  "But we are multi-tasking which is equivalent to being distracted.  It really is a question of being present, I think.  And I think it's a tremendous challenge.  And I say that without any judgment or, indeed, sense of superiority, because I certainly can't manage it all the time—and it's something that I think about a lot."

Hopefully, as school is getting back in session, families will think about taking time to see Nanny McPhee Returns together and be reminded that while each of us may not solve all of the world's problems—or perhaps diffuse a bomb—that life is always worth trying to work out.



Rated PG (for rude humor, some language and mild thematic elements) and starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans and Dame Maggie Smith, Nanny McPhee Returns releases wide in theaters on August 20, 2010.  For more information, please visit www.nannymcphee.com

Photos © Universal Pictures.  Used with permission.

To watch scenes of each of the five lessons given by Nanny McPhee in Nanny McPhee Returns, click here.

**This article first published on August 18, 2010.